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If you enjoy spending time on the water, it only seems logical to have your dog join in on the fun. Boating with a pet might feel daunting, but regardless of what size dog you have, there is an option that can work for you and it can be a fun summer experience to share with your dog. Aside from having your dog ride along on a pontoon or speed boat, there are a variety of other more affordable options you can together, including:
- Stand Up Paddle Boards
- Inflatable Rafts
- Row Boat
- Paddle Boats
- Pleasure cruises
- Small ferry boats
The larger your dog is, or the more excited your dog gets around water, the larger and more stable boat you might want to start with. This will help your dog feel more secure and give you more confidence about not tipping over in the water. For example, when I went boating with my Newfoundland for the first time, I chose to introduce her to boat rides through a large multi-person rowboat that was going to be stable and give her plenty of room to relax. For dogs who are smaller or calm near water, a smaller boat or even a stand-up paddleboard can be a great way to introduce your dog to boating.
Choosing A Day Rental
You don’t have to actually purchase a boat or board for water activities to enjoy them. Most kayak, paddleboat, paddleboard, and other recreational boat rentals at lakes and beaches are dog friendly. Although it is a good idea to call in advance to confirm that the rental company is going to be dog friendly. Some rental companies will even allow you to bring your dog on the boat first to gauge how comfortable they are going to be, so you can feel good about it before paying.
When you rent a boat or board, you usually need to sign a liability waiver for you and your dog. Rentals are typically available for short periods of time like an hour or two, as well as the option for all-day rentals. If you aren’t sure what kind of recreational boat you and your dog will enjoy together, you might consider renting a different kind each time you go out to see what works best for you and your dog.
Start Slowly Before Diving In
When introducing your dog to a recreational boat for the first time, you want to go slowly to make sure that your dog feels safe and confident. The sensation of being wobbly on an unstable surface can be alarming to many dogs. Move at your dog’s pace and level of comfort, and remember that while you might be in a rush to get out onto the water, your dog is doing hard work to adjust to the new “ground” under their feet.
Step 1: Ideally start first with your boat on land or beached in shallow water and allow your dog to get on and off the boat on their own.
Step 2: Use positive reinforcement to reward and encourage your dog to express any interest in the boat such as sniffing or approaching it.
Step 3: Get on the boat yourself and show your dog that it is safe and continue to reward your dog for any engagement, such as putting two paws up onto the boat
Step 4: After your dog is confidently putting two paws up on the boat, encourage them to put all four paws on. While your dog is on the boat continue to praise and offer treat rewards to help your dog build associations with the boat as a fun and comfortable place to be.
Step 5: When your dog is comfortably getting on and off the boat and staying on the boat, you can move to the water. Once you start moving away from the water, continue to praise and treat your dog for being calm on the water.
But if your dog shows signs of distress, give them a break and attempt an earlier step where your dog feels more confident. Do not force them to continue boating if they are clearly uncomfortable.
Prepare Before You’re On The Water
If you want to spend time boating with your dog this summer, there are a few things you can do at home to help prep your dog to feel comfortable on a boat. One of the biggest challenges for dogs with being on a boat, especially smaller recreational ones, is the unsteadiness under their feet. This can be especially true for larger dogs. To help your dog get prepared for the unpredictable movement of the water and the unstable feeling, you should do some work at home.
Those who have access to a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard can introduce their dog to it in a yard where they are more comfortable. Let your dog freely explore and then use treats, praise, or toys to reward your dog for that engagement and when they get on it. If you don’t have easy access to one, you can safely practice on other unstable surfaces such as wobble boards and balancing fitness equipment. Go at your dog’s pace to encourage them to test the wobbly surfaces with two and four paws.
If your dog is going to be on out on the water, it’s important for them to wear a life jacket—even if they’re a strong swimmer. This will help protect your dog in the event of an accident like the boat flipping over. Plus, dogs are likely disoriented or exhausted in the case of a stressful situation and a canine life preserver will provide immediate flotation and give their legs a break. Although most boat rentals will have life jackets people are required to wear, most don’t have dog life jackets available. Before boating, come prepared with your own for your dog.
When you are out on the water—regardless of the size of the boat—you should never tether your dog to the boat, kayak, or water raft. If your boat were to capsize, you don’t want your dog to be trapped and injured because they were attached.